There’s more to habitat management than just planting a food plot. Whether you are turning an abandoned alfalfa field into a CRP area or creating a food plot to increase harvest opportunity, leaving no wasted space on your hunting property is critical to holding whitetails. All too often you hear about the power of food plots, but nothing about holding deer on your property to increase the effectiveness of said plot. I believe food plots play a critical role in managing your property and transforming ‘dead spots’ into valuable habitat, but I also believe other habitat needs must be present in order to make it an effective kill plot. On my family farm in southwest Wisconsin, we have condensed deer travel simply by creating a food plot in an area surrounded by thick cover and limited resources. Creating a food plot can be a game changer, but planting a food plot in a random area on your land doesn’t always net success. A well thought out plan beats a rushed decision in most cases.
Before detailing our food plot success, I want to highlight other important changes we implemented in the years prior, eventually setting the stage for years of successful management to come. When my family purchased this 65-acre property in the driftless region of Wisconsin in the mid 1990’s, it was 50 acres of cropland with 15 acres of timber and very little habitat diversity. The front of the property started with a small trout stream just off the road, and elevation rises steeply as you move from the stream to the row crops on up to the 15 acres of timber. Starting in the late 90’s, we began to transform the 65-acres from the bottom up, literally. At the beginning (and low elevation areas of the property), buffer strips were planted to protect the trout stream from agricultural damage, three ponds were dug, native CRP grass was planted around the ponds, and two separate areas were planted with pine, plum and hazelnut. Also, the 15 acres of timber were logged, which increased the amount of natural forage. At the time, our goals were not to set the property up for future food plots, but to attract and hold a variety of wildlife, deer specifically. If I were to buy a property today, I would do the opposite, I would plant food plots first and design tree plantings and cover around that. At the time I didn’t realize it, but my family was setting this property up for many years of excellent whitetail hunting.
An aerial view of my property. Working from the bottom up we have the trout stream, ag field, ponds, plum and hazelnut tree rows, CRP, food plot, and the chunk of timber.
Next Level Hunting
By the late 2000’s, we had executed almost every management practice known to create natural forage and cover in order to hold whitetails. The property had begun to show serious results, as we were able to harvest multiple deer over 125” with one hovering near the 160” mark. I had taken an interest in food plots some time ago and realized this was the next step to take our hunting and management up a level. We had created the habitat to hold deer, now it was time to create close range hunting opportunities. This past spring, we cleared a small ¼ acre area that was overgrown with briars and began to shape a clover and chicory plot specifically designed to hunt over.
Proper timber management during the early years of ownership continues to pay dividends years later.
This food plot is placed at a high elevation just before the 15 acres of timber begins. Previously, this space was unproductive regarding our hunting needs, but we decided to change all of that. We essentially turned a ¼ acre of empty, unproductive space into an area that quickly blossomed into a social hub for various wildlife species including deer and turkey. Knowing many acres of CRP grass, two ponds, and 10 acres of crops sat below this food plot, we predicted it would serve as a staging area for deer to make their way from the timber above, to the destination agriculture field below. We decided on Clover and Chicory because they can both easily withstand browse pressure, provided there is ample rainfall. We got the rain we needed and the buck sightings ramped up as fall arrived. Trail camera photos confirmed deer were using the plot to socialize and browse heavily.
Rows of wild plum and hazelnut trees break up the landscape a bit.
Why This Food Plot Works
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that many pieces you read on food plots mention very little on how to hold deer on your property in order to maximize the plots potential. Well, the same is sometimes true when it comes to explaining why or how food plots work well for hunting purposes. The food plot my family and I created works for multiple reasons.
First, it’s a great kill plot because it is located in a natural transition area (timber to CRP) and an area where ‘edge’ is present. Deer are creatures of the edge as many of us know, but what does that mean in terms of transitioning that knowledge into hunting success? Naturally, edges are locations where deer will spend a little extra time and often parallel in their travels. Knowing this, creating an extra attraction in this area only made sense.
Three bucks sparring in the food plot during a September morning.
Secondly, the food plot is situated higher up with the desirable habitat below such as ponds, CRP bedding, hazelnut, and plum trees. My food plot is basically the appetizer before the buffet line. Since most deer on this property will move to lower elevations in the evening, the food plot is now a natural travel corridor that leads to the abundant habitat below.
While hunting over this plot, deer will most likely be coming from the above timber. Therefore, I have a treestand situated on the lower edge of the plot to ensure my evening thermals are falling down and away from the deer as they make their nightly migration. The design and master plan paid off last fall as my father harvested a 137-inch buck from the food plot in late October. Putting in a food plot is exciting and gets me jittery just thinking about the possibilities, but it is important to plan around your specific hunting goals to make certain your dreams are achievable.
Our food plot garnered a great P&Y buck in the first year mainly due to smart hunting over a meticulously planned plot. For a successful plot, take time to plan out the entire property around your plot and consider all the factors that will go into its potential success.